I love Michael McDonald. He is one of a few singers that I can impersonate almost perfectly. I am still looking for a duet partner for “On My Own” on karaoke nights. However, there are other classic non-Michael McDonald affiliated yacht rock songs. For me, yacht rock or light rock is about mastering pop songcraft. Writing the perfect pop song is more difficult than writing a complex or artsy (in other words, pretentious) alternative rock song or producing some complex hip-hop records than only college kids and starving artists want to listen to. Yacht rock songs often deal with the same subject matters: sex, relationships, loneliness, hooking up and breaking up, as any genre of music, but the lightness and subtle grooves make the lyrics less dangerous, sexual, and overt than they really are. Damn, these guys were geniuses.
10. “What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me”……Average White Band
While Chaka Khan’s version is definitely a soul song, the Average White Band’s version is the song you listen to on your way to your yacht. As a Long Beach, CA resident, I listen to Chaka’s version while driving through Little Cambodia on Anaheim Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, but when I’m on Ocean Avenue, I listen to AWB.
Chaka’s version is modern soul with a raw chorus. It is as if she is saying, “Eff your triflin’ ass, I’m gonna be okay, I can do bad by my damn self,” as she is kicking her lover out the door. The AWB version is a yacht rock perspective. The mellowness of the groove and laid back vocals tell a story of a guy that’s mildly annoyed, but is ready to move on. It is a shrug of a divorcee with a good attorney lined up, as he is riding around on Ocean Avenue with his younger Asian or Black mistress (or hell, let’s make her Blasian) in his BMW on his way to get overpriced sushi, before heading to his yacht.
9. “On and On”…..Stephen Bishop
This overlooked classic is an affluent reflection by a body of water. It is pure yacht rock. After all, the protagonist in the song is affluent enough to still be calm, while reflecting on the fact that, “Down in Jamaica, they got lots of pretty women, steal your money and break your heart.” Listening to it as an adult, I was wondering if Bishop was talking about pay for play, which I thought was more prevalent in the Dominican Republic. The song continues with heartbreaking tales of women and men, who keep trying in vain to make romantic relationships work. But the groove is so mellow, and Bishop seems like he’s more interested the waves and the prettiness of his voice than raw emotion, which is fine when you’re on a yacht and have money to burn.
8. “If You Leave Me Now”…..Chicago
In their ninety-five year history as a band, Chicago has created everything from a disco classic (“Street Player”) to schmaltzy 80s ballads (“Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “You’re the Inspiration,” etc.) that sounded the same damn song released every six damn months for five years, but their zenith was this lush yacht rock classic. It is a perfect song for chillin’ on your yacht, and reminiscing about lost love – while you have three other women on your arm. Who cares if they’re only with you because of your money? The horns, the strings, and Peter Cetera’s perfect vocals don’t.
7. “Just Remember I Love You”…….Firefall
Even if I can occasionally be a music snob, I love a simple song that is easy to like and easy to listen to. The gently rolling guitar, the mildly funky percussions, and the saxophone outro for a few seconds wrapped around the sentiment that as long as we remember love, we will be okay, makes for an early morning yacht rock anthem.
6. Fallin’ in Love ………..Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds
This is a perfect pop song. The lush intro combined with the simple piano chords and the subtle bassline created a breezy yet soulful song that just makes you smile, even if you just broke up with someone or haven’t gotten any in awhile. The verses are simple, and the hook will stay in your mind for hours. The LA based musicians, who dressed like Kid Rock’s uncle, went through many lineup changes and recorded for Playboy records. They retained the name Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds, even though Reynolds had left the group. They were also responsible for one of the best double entrendre in the history of music with “Don’t Pull Your Love.” “Fallin’ in Love” was given a Europop makeover by LaBouche in 1995, and Drake sampled it for his single, “Best I Ever Had,” in 2009.
5. Cool Night…………Paul Davis
Reminiscing about past love and romances is a popular theme in the Yacht rock arena, and this song, in which Davis wants his ex to come over to “just hold you by the firelight,” “and if it don’t feel right you can go” is a perfect example. Reading into the hook, we know Davis just wants some sex with his ex on a perfect weather night, but we will overlook that. Davis combined country, soul, and pop into his music, and is also remembered for “I Go Crazy,” which has turned into somewhat of a standard.
4. Love Will Find A Way………….Pablo Cruise
This is not only a Yacht Rock classic, but a Supermarket/Discount Store Classic. It is the most played non-Michael McDonald related song at my local Big Lots, and I sing along with it every time. This song has the most harmless and innocuous guitar solo in the history of pop music. Pablo Cruise does not make a convincing argument that love will make everything better, but somehow, I always end up buying more stuff than I really need when this song is on, while pondering the lives of Yacht Rock artists. Their songs often deal with finding redemption or peace after a broken heart. I was just wondering if yacht rock musicians actually get their heart broken a lot; maybe they should approach relationships like rappers.
3. Even the Nights are Better…..Air Supply
One dude was short, had dark hair, and looked like a porn star. The other guy was a tall blonde. Essentially, Air Supply was Hall and Oates with Australian accents and without Philly Soul influences. Yacht Rock without Air Supply is like the NBA without groupies.
It is difficult to pick an Air Supply yacht rock favorite, but this one does it for me: piano intro, strings, lead vocals that sound too high and the simple yet, somehow ridiculous lyrics. “I, I was the lonely one, wondering what went wrong, why love had gone and left me lonely.” He said “lonely” twice in thirty seconds. The second verse mentioned that the woman was lonely too. Yes, this is how hook ups and friends with benefits situations happen. But after some sex and having someone there, the nights are better and the days are brighter. Masterful simplicity and saccharinity have never sounded better. One of many yacht rock classics by Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock, and I still get these two guys mixed up.
2. I’d Really Love to See You Tonight…………..England Dan and John Ford Coley
Dan Seals and John Ford Coley were more forward than Paul Davis on “Cool Night.” No man only wants “to talk,” or “just miss your smile.” This yacht rock classic is about as forthright a request for ass from an ex as one can get, pre-hip hop. And the line is “I’m not talking about movin’ in,” not “I’m not talking about the linen.” I just figured it out this year, and yes, I have been singing it wrong for over twenty years too.
1. You’re the Only Woman……Ambrosia
Ambrosia was one of many studio bands from the 1970s to emerge out of LA, along with Steely Dan, and Toto. It was easy to confuse Ambrosia with the latter, since their lead singer at the time was David Pack, but Toto had a singer and songwriter named David Paich. Out of the three Ambrosia soul influenced soft rock hits (“How Much I Feel,” “Biggest Part of Me,” “You’re the Only Woman”), I prefer the latter for the harmony and bridge. The moment when the organ, horns, and Pack’s high notes come together— “When the pain of love surrounds you, and the world maybe unkind….” is still one of my favorite moments in a pop song.
Make It With You…..Bread
Reminiscing…..Little River Band
Just When I Needed You Most….Randy Vanwarmer
Sentimental Lady……Bob Welch